Story by Shawn Brennen // Photos by Paul Moore
"Hypnotherapy is an incredible option for someone that needs help and does not want to take pills," Cohn said.
The word hypnosis is derived from the Greek word "hypno," which means sleep. Hypnotherapy is generally understood as an altered state of consciousness brought about by a trained specialist to help change or control behavior, emotions, or the state of one's physical well-being. Hypnotist Ron Roe has been practicing hypnosis for the past 35 years. Roe scoots around in his chair wearing loafers with jeans high enough to evade the lurking flood, with a purple sweatshirt just loose enough to offer peek-a-boo views of his gold undershirt showing his pride for the University of Washington.
"Back when I started we were expected to dress like we were pretend doctors," Roe says. "But the double knit polyester shirts just weren't working for me."
The hypnotherapy field has fought an ongoing battle to be considered a true form of medicine since its inception in the late 1600s. Hypnosis started gaining acceptance in 1955 when the British Medical Society acknowledged clinical hypnosis as a viable form of healing, followed by the American Medical Association in 1958.
Hypnotherapy is not the only alternative form of medicine gaining a positive reputation in the medical community. Other popular naturopathic forms of medicine like acupuncture, chiropractics and yoga have also proven their benefits.
Aryn Whitewolf, a certified clinical hypnotherapist for the past 10 years, says hypnosis is gaining recognition but is still fighting an uphill battle within the medical community.
Whitewolf says that hypnosis has struggled to gain acceptance in the medical field because most doctors are unwilling to accept hypnosis as a viable form of healing. Hypnotherapy goes against everything physicians have learned throughout medical school, Roe says.
"The medical community is trained to cut [the problem] out, drug it or do something with it," Roe says. "They have to wait until something is wrong then they can deal with the symptoms."
Some old school doctors dislike the idea of hypnosis because the physician is no longer needed, Whitewolf says.
"But when a doctor and a hypnotist work together they address the whole person and help empower the patient to recover faster and healthier," Whitewolf says.
Roe says hypnosis focuses on a person's overall health. "My first visit, we just talked about what goals we wanted to achieve so the hypnotist and I were on the same page," Cohn says.
Roe says hypnosis cures the person with the problem rather than trying to cure the symptoms of the problem, like with allopathic medicine.
"I am typically the last person people call when they are seeking medical help," Roe says. "They call me because nothing else has worked."
Many people base their skeptical views of hypnosis on movies like "The Manchurian Candidate," where people act against their will because of mind control, which is different from hypnotherapy.
Hypnosis uses relaxation techniques to bring the patient to a state when their subconscious mind is open to suggestions that can help them deal with their problems. Roe says although the subconscious mind is open to new suggestions, a client will never do anything against his or her morals. "People aren't going to take a suggestion that they don't want to - that's Hollywood," Whitewolf says.
Roe compares hypnosis to rewiring a computer, the computer being your brain.
"I am a mind mechanic," Roe says. "I suggest to people to let go of their stressors that are holding them back in life."
Hypnotherapy is now being used for one of the most stressful situations a woman can bear - child birth.
In 1998, Whitewolf completed her training at Bellingham Technical College in hypnosis with a specialization in hypnobirth. Hypnobirth is a relatively new take on hypnosis, where mothers who are about to give birth undergo hypnosis and deliver their child naturally, and typically without medication.
Whitewolf says 10 years ago she was the first person in Bellingham practicing hypnobirth. Since she started practicing hypnobirth she has assisted nearly 40 to 50 natural childbirths.
"Ninety six to 98 percent of the women I have helped with hypnobirth have not used medications for pain," Whitewolf says.
Whitewolf says when a mother gives birth under hypnosis it has many positive effects on the child, mother and father. The first benefit is the actual birth is a shorter and better experience for the mother, Whitewolf says.
"Hypnobirth teaches the mother to completely relax during contractions, which allows the body to do what it is naturally meant to do," Whitewolf says.
The second benefit of hypnobirth is that it empowers the father and involves him more in the birth of his child. During a birth at the hospital the father is powerless to do anything except to help the mother breath. Whitewolf says, in hypnobirth the father is essential in motivating the mother through the birth.
"Dad is there to encourage mom through the birth and empower her," Whitewolf says.
Hypnotherapy is not limited to just delivering a child; it has many beneficial effects on the mind and body.
In 2001, the British Psychological Society published "The Nature of Hypnosis," an extensive study of hypnosis. The study found that hypnosis is an effective tool to be used in therapeutic applications saying, "There is convincing evidence that hypnotic procedures are effective in the management and relief of both acute and chronic pain and in assisting in alleviation of pain, discomfort and distress due to medical and dental procedures."
Hypnotherapy has been used to help cure different forms of chronic or acute pain. Roe says most of his clients come in because they are trying to deal with life-long stressors that have been holding them back, and they finally want to do something about it.
Whitewolf says people have come to her for help for all sorts of reasons, such as quitting smoking, losing weight,>> stress management, test anxiety, sports performance, nail biting and sleep disorders. Quitting smoking and losing weight are chronic or long-term problems typically caused by pain a person experienced in the past, Roe says.
To help people with chronic pain, Whitewolf says, she needs to get to the core of the problem and help suggest ways for the client to let go of the old ways.
"We help people move beyond the old trauma to a new way of living," Whitewolf says.
Roe says hypnosis can also help people deal with acute or short-term problems. Acute problems include sleep disorders, anger management, stress management, blood pressure problems and stomach problems. All acute problems can typically be drawn back to high levels of stress in someone's life.
"Stress is the most corrosive state of mind and being in someone's life," Roe says.
Roe said anyone in the world can be hypnotized but the rate of success for people is determined by how willing they are to change and how many times they see their hypnotist. To maximize the chance of succeeding in helping their problem, Roe said, a client needs to see him at least five to ten times.
"I saw my hypnotist for six different sessions to help with my sleep problem," Cohn says. "I started having a decent night's sleep after the first or second session."
Roe says hypnosis is here to stay as long as people keep recognizing the benefits of naturopathic forms of medicine.
"I can't help someone change if they are unwilling to change," Roe says. "I am only interested in helping the people who are willing to change."